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Toxic To Animals: How Environmental Toxins Impact Your Dog

From being linked to Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, and liver damage, to potentially worsening the obesity epidemic, environmental toxins have a lot to answer for in modern society. Although most people have some awareness of the human impact of environmental toxins, it’s easy to forget that the chemicals we need to be cautious of are also toxic to animals. This means our beloved pets need to be considered when we’re thinking about reducing our exposure to these harmful chemicals. How can we better protect our pets from chemicals that are toxic to animals? The Morris Animal Foundation is helping us explore this research.

Environmental Toxins and Dogs

Commonly known as humans’ best friend (and also our oldest one—domestication can be traced back 11,000 years), dogs are an important animal to look at when we’re talking about environmental toxins.

Environmental toxins are toxic chemicals introduced into the environment due to human activity.

While there’s little we can do to completely avoid environmental toxins—they’re in everything from our food to our water to the air we breathe—we can make changes to reduce our exposure to them. We can also help our pets reduce their exposure to chemicals that are toxic to animals

What Is the Morris Animal Foundation?

As one of the largest animal health research organizations in the world, Morris Animal Foundation exists to advance the health of animals. The organization’s work has funded more than $142 million in critical studies across a diverse range of species.

What Does The Research Say?

Just like people, dogs are affected by environmental toxins. Environmental factors that are toxic to humans are often toxic to animals, too. Interestingly, many cancers in dogs are biologically similar to cancers in humans. Dr. Lauren Trepanier used this premise to research the affects of environmental toxins in dogs, and how lymphoma and bladder cancer in dogs could potentially signal to owners that they, and their dogs, may have been exposed to harmful chemicals. If you’d like to check out her talk, you can do so here.

Historically, canaries were taken into coal mines to help act as an early warning sign to gas leaks. If dangerous gasses such as carbon monoxide built up in the mine, the canaries would die first—signaling that miners needed to get out of the mine, quickly. 

In her research, Dr. Trepanier uses this analogy and adjusts it to explain disease in dogs. Using the term “boxers in the backyard,” Dr. Trepanier discusses how the research she and a team conducted shows how disease in dogs, such as the boxers they studied, could act as an early warning sign to humans. This is because dogs share similar chemical exposures in the home, have shorter life spans, have closely related genomes to humans, and share many clinical and biological features with humans. 

“A cancer diagnosis in your dog might be a lightbulb for you to evaluate what’s around you in your home and yard and maybe make some changes in your home and household that might protect your family and other pets,” Dr. Trepanier says.

The study that was conducted analyzed more than 50 boxers with lymphoma from all over the United States and compared them to more than 80 unaffected boxers of an older age. Owners were asked to fill out questionnaires, detailing toxins such as the use of weed killers, paints and paint strippers; share where they walked their dog (for example near gas stations, railway tracks, etc.); and also share the county that they lived in, so researchers could look at water and air pollution levels. Other measures, such as urine samples and dust analysis (to detect toxins such as arsenic), were also used.

The research found that boxers with lymphoma were more likely to live:

  • Within two miles of a crematorium or chemical supplier (which indicates high air pollutants)
  • Within 10 miles of an active nuclear power plant
  • In counties with higher levels of ozone, formaldehyde, and butadiene

Additionally, dogs with bladder cancer were more likely to live:

  • In a home that used insecticides 
  • A county with higher levels of air pollution
  • A county with higher levels of trihalomethanes (which are the breakdown products of chlorine and other water disinfectants)

Further Learning

If you’ve had a dog pass away from bladder cancer or lymphoma, or are simply just a concerned owner, we recommend watching the full talk by Dr. Trepanier. Not only is she a wealth of knowledge in environmental toxins, she’s also a proud dog owner, having owned boxers since she was five years old! 

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